A campaign to create a world day to promote Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has been launched in South Africa, writes Terry-Ann Beukes.

As future ambassadors, children remind us of the beauty we have forgotten and should be at the forefront of efforts to create an international day dedicated to conservation of critical ocean areas.

Such is the view of leading marine biologist, Dr Judy Mann.

The conservation strategist at the SA Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) has already mobilised a formidable network of organisations in support of creating an MPA Day.

ABUNDANCE: The diversity of life on the coral reefs of the iSimangaliso MPA astounds. Picture: Eve Marshall

The alliance so far includes SAAMBR, Two Oceans Aquarium, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, WildOceans, Save Our Seas, Flow Communications, Olivia Jones Communications and the World Wildlife Fund – SA.

On August 1, they will be the first, globally, to celebrate an MPA day as a way to educate and inspire others about the proper management of these protected spaces and to draw attention to the benefits  MPAs provide.

It’s all about creating partnerships to ensure marine life can thrive, reproduce and grow, said Mann.

The campaign to create an international MPA day will officially be launched tonight (8 June) via TwitterFacebook, and Instagram (@marineprotectedareassa).

Safe havens

So far, South Africa has proclaimed 42 MPAs. These aim to provide  safe havens for animals and plants in the ocean, and support human communities who depend on the ocean for livelihood and survival.

“While many people are aware of the importance of terrestrial protected areas, such as nature reserves and game parks, few understand that the same level of protection can – and must – be afforded our ocean life as well,” said Mann,  “These are effectively the ‘Kruger National Parks’ of the oceans and an investment in our own future well-being.”

MPAs are declared under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act and are the responsibility of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. On land, South Africa protects 7.8 percent of our land area, whereas in the ocean, it’s only 5 percent of the territory.

TRUE BLUE: Updated map and list of South Africa’s designated Marine Protected Area network. Picture: SANBI

Here’s a look at some of the reasons to celebrate MPA Day on 1 August…

Ensuring  biodiversity

LITTLE FELLA: Puffadder shy shark are among the smaller shark species protected in the cooler waters of our Southern and Western Cape coastal MPAs. Picture: Mark van Coller

MPAs protect a range of marine ecosystems which are home to rare or endangered species, as well as uniquely South African animals and plants that live nowhere else in the world. They protect critical nursery habitats for marine creatures and provide a space for resident fish species to increase in number and size, securing a vital food source for humans.

Supporting adjacent fisheries

MPAs enable fish stocks to increase in size and abundance and, over time, these spill over into adjacent fished areas to improve catches for fisheries.

Marine scientist, Dr Bruce Mann, evaluates fish stocks in iSimangaliso World Heritage Site. Photo Judy Mann

Ensuring healthy marine animals

Through the establishment of MPAs, marine animals are genetically stronger, which means they can better adapt to changes in the ocean.

FLIP:  Humpback whales migrate through a number of our coastal MPAs. Picture: M. Rutzen

Protecting cultural heritage

The ocean is a revered space for cleansing, worship, inspiration and rejuvenation, and by protecting these spaces, traditional practices can continue, connecting present generations with cultural roots.

ACCESS: Most coastal MPAs are zoned for multiple uses. This ensures that local community members are able to access marine resources where appropriate. Photographer: Judy Mann

Promoting tourism

MPAs provide  invaluable spaces for recreational activities, including snorkelling, scuba diving, whale watching and turtle nesting, Some of the country’s MPAs are internationally-renowned dive sites, attracting tourists to the region.

MAGNIFICENT: Divers come from all over the world to experience the diving at Sodwana Bay in the Isimangaliso MPA. This boosts the local economy. Picture: Eve Marshall

Our outdoor classrooms

From pupils in foundation phase through to students at tertiary level, MPAs act as educational centers for learning in the environment, providing a direct connection to the natural world.

HANDS ON: MPAs provide important areas for learning about nature, in nature. Picture: Judy Mann

Research contribution

The pristine quality of these conservation areas, gives an idea of what nature looks like when not impacted by humans. This forms a solid foundation for research into the natural world and conservation techniques.

Diving in Sodwana. Photo Eve Marshall

Provides resilience to climate change

Healthy oceans absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and are home to plant life that produces oxygen, helping to buffer humans from the effects of climate change. They also protect coastal communities from the devastating effects of rising sea levels.

RARE BEAUTY: The Mkambathi Falls are one of the few waterfalls in the world that drop directly into the ocean. This spectacular natural wonder is found in the Pondoland MPA . Picture: Judy Mann

Help with job creation

The marine wildlife economy paves the way for sustainable job creation. The recreational benefits of MPAs – snorkelling, scuba diving and the like – provides employment in the tourism industry. The conservation side also creates jobs in the form of field rangers, park managers, hospitality and maintenance staff. The many jobs associated with fisheries also rely on healthy marine ecosystems.

Medically useful

Marine-based animals use complex compounds to defend themselves, some of which can be extracted and used in the creation of drugs that may fight off viruses, bacteria and cancer cells.

On  plans to create World MPA Day, Mann said: “There are almost 140 different environmental days celebrated around the world. We have big international ones like Earth Day and Biodiversity Day, and many smaller days such as Day of the Seal and Penguin Awareness Day, but there are no days dedicated to raise awareness of Marine Protected Areas.”

“In our experience, awareness days can be powerful. In fact we, and many other organisations plan most communication activities around these days,” said Mann. “Our research in the aquarium showed us that 80% of our visitors could not name one MPA in South Africa. We hope that MPA Day will start a popular conversation that will help us to generate support for MPAs.”

And as one of the most passionate educators in the marine science field, Mann is particularly excited about mobilising children and youth behind the campaign.

“On our regular excursions, I am inspired by the children, the excitement, their faces, the giggles, awe and wonder at marine life. It reminds me of fishing days with my dad when I was two-years-old,” said Mann.

  • Terry-Ann Beukes is an emerging writer enrolled for training with Roving Reporters.  This story forms part of  a biodiversity reporting project supported by Youth4MPAS and the Earth Journalism Network.

For further information visit www.marineprotectedareas.org.za

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